A bill to exempt small broadband providers from parts of the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality regulations passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Wednesday.
Called the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act, the legislation would free companies with 250,000 employees or less from having to disclose certain information, like data caps and management practices, to subscribers. The bill would have a sunset date of five years.
“The small businesses that we represent support this exemption so they can focus on their businesses, their customers, rather than burdensome regulatory requirements,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the bill’s sponsor, said during the committee hearing.
Last year, the FCC approved the net neutrality rules, giving itself the power to regulate the Internet as utility. It also set disclosure requirements for Internet service providers — but gave a one-year extension to Internet service providers with less than 100,000 customers. If passed, this legislation would amend that requirement.
The vote comes on the heels of a federal appeals court ruling Tuesday that rejected recent challenges to the net neutrality rules.
Originally, the Senate bill applied to Internet service providers that had 500,000 subscribers or fewer. But lawmakers changed the threshold to 250,000 in the version they passed, matching strictures laid out in a House bill that passed unanimously in April.
Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said in an email the bill would only apply consumer protections established in the net neutrality rules to the 15 to 20 largest Internet service providers.
“That would curb many abuses since most people only have one large ISP as an option for high quality Internet access,” he wrote, “but it would leave many subscribers in smaller cities with only one option for high speed Internet — a smaller monopoly typically — and few basic protections.”
Meanwhile, the trade group NTCA-Rural Broadband Association issued a press release Wednesday praising the Senate bill.
“NTCA members can remain focused on using their limited resources to provide high-quality broadband services to their customers in the hardest-to-serve reaches of the country,” the Rural Broadband Association wrote.
The American Cable Association said in a release it was ” very pleased” about the committee’s move to pass the bill and hopes to work with lawmakers as the legislation moves to the Senate floor.
Editor’s note: The story was updated to include comments from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.